Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Healing is an ever-winding road leading through peaks and valleys.
Journeying through the valleys, we’re content to stay in the car with the windows rolled up with one foot planted firmly on the gas pedal. We have a natural inclination to want to get through our valleys quickly. The drive itself is cast in shadows, which obstructs your view and throws your bearings into chaos.
The peaks, however, are characterized by wide-open hilltops where we’re happy to step out of our cars and take in the splendor of the surrounding views. I’m happy to report that Jill and I are currently outside the car, stretching our legs from our past two years, and enjoying a hilltop from which we can look back, assess and evaluate, and begin planning with a long-term perspective.
We are grateful for the universal lessons this journey has afforded us as they have interwoven our ability to connect with others with strong strands of empathy and experience.
Universality is one of the ways in which artists reach their audiences. Shakespeare is a shining example of this truth. Indeed, his plays, plots, and characters are timeless.
Though separated by 400 years, Shakespeare speaks to our 21st Century souls with insightful wisdom about the human condition. He is the epitome of a playwright's purpose: "to hold as twere the mirror up to nature..."
I've recently been reflecting on the character Duke Senior from the play, As You Like It. The Duke is deposed and driven into exile where he finds an unexpected opportunity for reflection away from any “public haunt” in the quiet setting of the Forest of Arden.
Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
This celebration of nature's food for the soul (trees, streams, and stones) describes well what Jill and I fed upon from August 2020 to August 2021. Except our nature’s food came in the form of shore-lined nature reserves, pristine beaches, and hallowed historical grounds.
On August 1, 2020, we arrived at our new home in Virginia Beach, VA. For one year, we lived six blocks from the beach and in the midst of the Vibe Creative District. We basked in both natural and artistic beauty and made a few lifelong friends with others who value artistry, curiosity, and authentic connection.
For us, Virginia Beach was "exempt from public haunt.” We enjoyed quiet reflection and the beginning stings and salves of our healing journey. If a particular day was uncomfortably bad, we would simply step out of our home and walk to the edge of the Atlantic ocean, or take a 15-minute drive to watch the sunset at the Chesapeake Bay.
Sweet were these profits from adversity.
Virginia Beach was our oasis; our tabernacle in the desert where we were able to meet with God and grapple with our stress and sorrow.
The grandeur of ocean winds, the blinding reflection of the sun off glassy bay waters, and cool air brushing across our faces at the base of trees under which the founders of our country also took refuge–all of this cultivated quiet reflection, and confidence.
The majestic beauty by which we were constantly surrounded gave us physical context to our own smallness as compared to the breadth of God's creation.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
It also served as a constant reminder that He is in control; He hears us, sees us, and has a plan.
The graces extended to us were many and came quickly. For this, we are still so thankful.
Jill enjoyed a semester teaching at her MFA alma mater, Regent University.
Together, we developed a curriculum for and taught in the inaugural academic arm of Rich Theatre. Jill directed their summer musical and served as the acting coach for their summer theatre camp.
I got an agent, did commercial work, and shot a film in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I also recorded several voiceover commercials for Communication Federal Credit Union for whom I’ve served as their on-air spokesperson for 9 years.
Between gigs, we jumped in the car and headed to points of adventure up and down the coast. We spent time exploring Washington DC and the Carolinas, and found some of our most treasured locales closer to home, including Cape Charles, Virginia, and Yorktown.
Along the way, old friendships were renewed, and new friendships were forged.
And here’s something neither of us expected but stands chief among the many blessings the Lord afforded us . . .
That’s the number of days that have passed since my wife and I were sitting on the beach and decided to embark upon a 30-day no-alcohol challenge.
As I’ve mentioned, it was on the beach that most of our healing occurred. It was there we felt most seen by the Lord who knew the power of the ocean would remind us how small we are.
It was on the beach that we marveled at the sometimes ferocious nature of the interplay between the sky and the ocean–the wind and the water.
There were times when we sat on rain-soaked sand and fell silent as the violent sound of the waves seemed to release some kind of guttural exclamation. One such evening a revelation swept over my heart and mind:
For as much mystery, depth, and sometimes violence the ocean contains, it still must stop at the shore. There is a boundary to the sea. There is a boundary God Himself sets against the upheaval in our lives. He is our good shepherd who speaks to the sea just as He speaks to evil–you can come this far but no further.
In Job 12: 7-10, it is written,
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
In His hand, we sat in the sand. In His hand, we left our home. In His hand, we currently enjoy the graces of His healing, provision, the joy of the journey, and a profound trust in God that, frankly, we can’t take any credit for. The Holy Spirit has used it all and will continue to do so, to bind us more closely to the will of the Father and to the likeness of His Son.
446 days ago as we watched the sun set over the Chesapeake Bay, we agreed that we wanted to challenge ourselves to engage a bit further with the trauma. One way to face the pain in a more organized fashion was to avoid anything that might numb it.
What began as a 30-day challenge became a conviction for both me and my wife.
I share this piece of my journey to highlight the goodness of God.
Before, I carried the weight of a lot of stress that was the direct result of my immediate, daily surroundings. It was common for me to open a bottle of wine when I got home from work and share the harrowing nature of the day's conflicts with my wife.
My relationship with alcohol wasn’t healthy. I will openly admit part of the enjoyment I incurred was a direct result of the calming effect it had.
Now, it wasn’t all stress and gloom. Most of the time, it was a lot of fun too. My wife and I spent many an evening on our back deck, sipping on wine, talking, and laughing together.
Presently, I’m enjoying the clarity that comes with living alcohol-free, as well as the healthy coping methods I’ve learned through counseling, reading, and spending time with my family and a burgeoning circle of close friends.
From the valleys to the mountaintops, the Lord has dissected, cut away, added to, and strengthened our faith. He’s done what only He can do; He’s used it all for Good.
Psalm 95: 4-5 says, “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
As I end this post, I anticipate this being the last blog in my cancel culture series (blogs 3-7).
If I could pick one piece of scripture that epitomizes the growth and lessons gleaned in the aftermath of June 2020, and God's purposeful allowance of just not ours, but all trials and tribulations, it would be Romans 5: 3-5, which states:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
His Spirit is the "living water" promised to the woman at the well (John 4).
No matter what evil comes in your life, know that God has given it a boundary.
Meet him in your desert places, ask for His living water, and drink deeply.